Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Curing Charlotte's Addiction - Unveiling A New Light Rail

Although the landscaping isn’t in yet, Saturday, Charlotte, North Carolina opened their light rail system to excited crowds clamoring aboard for their first free rides. Electrically driven, the Charlotte Observer proclaims the rail is ringing in a “new era of mass transit” in the city. Lines were so long for Saturday’s free ride, the transit system began driving some of the estimated 60,000 riders back to their cars as they were unable to board the rail (due to the crowds) for the return trip to their original boarding spot.

This turn of events will surely signal in a new era of study for the City of Charleston as our neighbor’s success will most likely reignite thoughts of building our own light rail (or other) system. Many of you may remember that studies were performed in 1990 by Wilber Smith Associates to assess the feasibility of a light rail system along the Norfolk Southern line from Summerville to Downtown Charleston. At $46 million, it was deemed a no go. Despite the recognition in the Berkley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments report that, “an efficient transportation system is the life blood of an economically healthy region,” little progress has been made beyond these outdated residents of the county’s file cabinet. Through these old reports, we learn that although many recognize the potential and possibilities, the folks organizing implementation of the system, if it were ever funded, gave an approximate delivery time of up to ten years to complete. We seriously assert that ten years is simply too long to wait.

As suspected, and happily discovered after hours of pretending that the next keyword would be the big producer. Wait. Google searching. Wait. Iclandic Figure Skating? Lose all hope while breathing out heavily. Start over, and we found, The Post & Courier, builds a case for commuter rail service in Charleston based around a series of more recent studies and articles by Niel Pierce of the Citistates Group. Siting congestion, three dollar gas (which will only continue climbing upward – our prediction), future housing expectations, pollution and CARTA’s increased rider-ship, they tell us “a rail solution should be quickly forthcoming.” As two people putting CARTA’s transit system to use daily, we can attest to the part about the increasing numbers on the bus system. We anticipate the demographic will continue to shift and climb in unison with gas prices. Come closer as this must be whispered in your ear, dear reader, we recently spotted a new rider who daily sports a fancy-schmancy business suit and beautifully polished loafers. For a minute, we thought we were in New York City or Boston…surely not Charleston.

The real wake-up call lies in one of Citistates writings from the P&C, entitled “The Price of Having It All.” The article concisely conveys what we at this site sincerely hope moves to the forefront of local consciousness – an inevitable destructive cycle will take place within ten years if we don’t get our act together pronto. Our environment cannot, and by law of nature, will not, be taken for granted.

Officials fear the day is coming when beaches won't be safe, flooding will increase, and tourism and property values will take a terrible hit.

These dangers aren't to be dismissed lightly. Within a decade, this three-county treasure of a region could find that by placing its bets mostly on the economy and by relying on engineering to restore mobility and then on science to repair the environment, it's lost both — its quality of life and its economy.

Consider the recent rating of “F” received by Charleston from the American Lung Association, and it’s easy to see how we are paving our own road to hell. This week’s liberal City Paper features yet another human violation of our making. In an extensive expose entitled, "Charleston’s Dirty Little Secret," we found a foul explanation for much of the trouble at the root of the potential catastrophic environmental consequence observed by the Citistates Group.

By Stratton Lawrence - November 28, 2007
Don't breathe deep — there are killers afloat
Sunny skies, warm winters, and clean ocean breezes. Our comfortable weather and environment draws increasing numbers of people to Charleston to enjoy our quality of life. Unlike notoriously polluted places like L.A. or New Jersey, breathing here is an afterthought. So here's an unwelcome surprise: Our air is downright dirty. Earlier this year, the American Lung Association (ALA) gave Charleston County an "F" for the levels of particulate matter in our air. There's no special scale here. F means we haven't done our homework, and now we're playing catch-up.

Charleston seems to have a little issue with pumping carcinogens into our own air (yet we ban smoking throughout our city, as noted in the article). PM2.5 soot breathed in will cause asthma, heart and cardiovascular disease, stroke and generally breaks down the whole immune system. The article notes that “asthma cases in the U.S. have increased 450 percent since 1980.” A measurement of 35 micrograms per cubic meter is the EPA’s max. At the moment, it is estimated Charleston hovers around 32.

We are all responsible for Charleston's F rating with the ALA. Every time we drive a vehicle or crank up a lawn mower, we're burning oil that releases toxins into the air. Every bit of electricity we use (significantly more in S.C. than the national average per household) contributes to the toxic plumes being emitted from the five coal-fired power plants surrounding us on the Edisto River, Lake Moultrie, and up the road in Georgetown.

The lack of aggressive action to lower PM2.5 levels suggests that, right now, commerce and economics are prioritized before the health of the county's residents.

Essentially, we face another critical juncture. Does Charleston run blindly down the current path and continue belching toxins into the atmosphere, leaching pesticides into our waterways while ignorantly refusing to recognize the changing landscape? Will we continue, with great pride, to run our limitless supply of oil burning machinery with reckless weedwhackerish abandon knowing the fumes we breathe breed cancer cells? Where the hell are the gas masks? This is freaking us out, man.

The reality is that even if this article were only half true, fifteen and a half micrograms per cubic meter is still too much for our confidence levels to remain anywhere near their usual stratospheric highs -HA. The article in its entirety is an eye-opener to say the very least.

So, we say - build the rail. Make it a reality. Let’s begin to tackle this problem. The oil supply spirals toward depletion faster than this society is prepared to shift and our populations grow knowing no subdivision boundary - we simply can no longer wait. Honestly, we like getting to work in a reasonable amount of time and would like things to remain that way. And we like breathing clean air and would like there to be a few unbastardized particles left for our enjoyment.

Mostly, we don’t want to end up like Atlanta (see previous post Dry Times for their debacle) with bad air, little water and no solid plan. We must learn from our inland neighbors. They’re on the verge of a crisis with (until last week) no idea how to handle the magnitude of this issue. We in Charleston don’t have a crisis yet, meaning we haven’t crossed the point where the Federal government will demand that we clean our air, certainly a nice and costly offer for all of us. Hence, it is at once the perfect time to plan as well as clean house. Small changes can make huge differences.

The Native American Indians believed that the sign of a good leader was not what the person got done during the life, but what was done in the leaders name long after they were gone. These leaders practiced the Seventh Generation Philosophy. Great inspiration lies in the humane laws of the Six Nations (of Indians). It is said that these great leaders influenced our very own Founding Fathers. Seventh Generation Philosophy commanded that every decision made by the leaders of the Six Nations take into consideration the impact on the following seven generations of descendents. Native Americans lived in harmony with nature for more than 4,000 years. Europeans entered the scene only 400 years ago here in America. Notice the missing zero?

As we contemplate The Price of Having It All, the price of just having this laptop appears a little staggering when considering seven generations. The material relevancy of this specific item is not lost on us. OK, so we like our laptop. How ‘bout we agree to take baby steps. So, will someone please begin work on free, clean energy so we can keep the laptop humming? Like indefinitely?

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